by Neale Sourna
Coober Pedy, South Australia; 1919
Green. I miss the color
green. Green trees, both evergreen and deciduous, and green azalea bushes ready
to spring bloom, dripping with rainwater or glistening with morning’s kiss.
There is no green or dew kisses here because in this dry, hard place, “like the
lifeless moon, after Armageddon”, we never had our honeymoon, Pete and I.
“I’m not him, I’m not Joe,
Maddy, not the man who sent you those letters that brought you here, but … but,
if you’ll h-have me—?”
“Yes. Without question,”
I’d said, and he’d blushed horribly, nodded mutely, and we were betrothed.
We were married by a
great talkative preacher on hostile and diligent mission to convert and subvert
the kind aborigines to his God. Then,
Pete and I spent an uncomfortable, unconsummated wedding night lying side by
side, and then he’d risen early, but I’d finally convinced him to sit still for
breakfast only to have him seem increasingly guilty about dawdling his day away
So, a half day into our
honeymoon week, he returned to mining the opal, and that lonely way was our way
for too long.
“Are y’happy here,
Maddy, with me?” I’d wanted to say a bold, unquestioning “yes” again, but my
nod was not so doubtless.
He’s a fine man, but
this is a daunting new world—this post Great War, Australian outback, this barren
place of castaways. Pete was clearly avoiding any marital intimacy with me; a
fine start that. Shouldn’t a man be happy and take relish in his new wife,
especially if he truly loved?
Still your mind and
heart, Maddy girl. Mama always said I should curb such harsh, unfeminine thoughts
and keep all such masculine tones of disappointment or superiority from my
voice, lest my husband disapprove and find fault with me.
“Maddy, you all right?”
“I … I miss Mama, and
grass, and trees.”
looked at her, ill to his soul, as if personally responsible for luring her
from lush lands and blood family.
letters. I fell in love with Pete on the long road, from port dock to mining
claim. My heart had gone out to this real man after meeting him, after my heart
had been taken over long months in phantom thrall by Joe’s letters. Why could
they not be one and the same, fine man and fine letters, and all be happiness,
and contentment? I sighed away my discontent.
heard her sigh, she sighed a lot lately, and those slight sounds of
disappointment, clearly in him, said his behavior vexed her. He didn’t mean to
hurt Maddy, but—.
“M-Maddy, what’re you
I’d startled him; he’d
been lost in thought, bathing, like every night, since marriage, after his
dusty, gritty work.
“Preparing to wash your
back and whatever you cannot reach well, for a wife is a helpmeet.” He stared
dumbfounded, then quickly averted his eyes, as I slipped nude into his bath before
him, my legs touched his.
That was the word, wasn’t it, he thought, scrunched up physically to not reveal
his nakedness or touch bare flesh to same, as he saw her gaze search his face
for truth that he held ruthlessly close hidden from her direct view. And he
averted his own gaze, again, which kept seeking her lush body, as the hot water
brought color to her fine skin, as its heat made him near faint. She reached
“Why not, Pete? We’re espoused.”
not right. Unseemly.”
“Unusual, perhaps, and
there is nothing wrong nor unseemly about my love for you, or yours for me. Now
relax and I—.”
His stern command made her flinch and his ears ring. And he made her cry, in
mute silence, without sniffling, but she cried, and yet wouldn’t look away from
him. God, he loved the boldness of this wo—!
“Pete, tell me, what is
wrong with me, that you—.”
wrong with you. You’re faultless. But me, I’m wholly beneath you, undeserving
of your fine affections.”
a liar, a cheat, and an evil man. And if y’want first class back to your
“This is my home, here,
with you.” And I was silent and waited, without accusation in my heart, until
he spoke his own heart’s distresses.
was me. I told Joe what to write. Egged him on to send for yah. He told ME to
choose. I chose WHO I WANTED. I-I don’t know what I thought, except what must
be evil, that you’d come for him, but be mine, too, or that you’d choose and
love me. Or that it wouldn’t matter if you full loved him, but was my friend.
But my feelings ran wild on our journey here, and I selfishly prayed with full
heart that somehow…. And Joe died.”
He hung his head, then abruptly
rose in full wet nudeness to leave.
“My God, Pete, my Pete, you are a glorious man. And far
too honorable, more so than our late Joe, who selfishly was about to take what
wasn’t his to have.” I stood. “I fell in love with the man who wrote those thoughtful,
heartfelt words to me, not physically wrote on paper, but wrote with his warm heart. And I fell again, when I met you;
the same and only man for me.
He cried and I kissed
him, and our love has been naked and heartfelt as we’ve been on our honeymoon
for a lifetime.
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